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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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The Suffocating Insecurities of Mike Francesa

Pity Mike Francesa. He’s a very insecure man. Today he interviewed James Hirsch, the author of the wonderful Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, and turned the conversation as well as the remainder of his show into a referendum (with his vote the only one that counts) on Mickey Mantle being better or more clutch or more forthcoming or a nicer person than Willie Mays. Even in begrudgingly acknowledging Mays’ unsurpassed all-around greatness, Francesa had to keep injecting Mantle, Mantle and more Mantle into the program.

I found this fascinating, not for the content, but for what it reveals yet again about Francesa, New York’s most listened-to sports talk host and highest-profile über Yankees fan. He couldn’t stand the idea that his childhood idol Mantle wasn’t being celebrated. The book, mind you, covers Mays’ entire life and career. It’s not a comparison of centerfielders at whom New Yorkers and baseball fans were fortunate enough to marvel during the same era. Mantle is not disrespected in this book. He’s just one character in a sweeping biography. Hirsch wrote about Mays, not Mantle. There are plenty of books about Mantle. This simply isn’t one of them.

Not good enough for Francesa, who immediately told Hirsch  — because it mattered to Francesa — that he’s “pro-Mickey Mantle” and, therefore, “anti-Willie Mays”.

This is a delineation a six-year-old makes.

It also fits the pattern of Francesa endlessly dismissing the Mets, the Jets and just about anything that isn’t the Yankees or that he can’t somehow connect to the Yankees. The football Giants, since they used to play in Yankee Stadium (and employ a coach who once served under his onetime BFF Bill Parcells), seem exempt from such condescension. I noticed on his performance art showcase that aired on Channel 4 the Sunday night after the Jets clinched their playoff spot that Francesa had to lead with an observation on how badly the Giants had played that afternoon, but we’ll get to them later…oh yeah, the Jets made the playoffs.

This was obviously the fault of the Jets for rhyming with Mets, which automatically devalues them to Francesa, the six-year-old who can’t stand attention being paid to anything that doesn’t smack of pinstripes.

Willie Mays? An all-time great? The subject of a new book, which is why you have on the guest you have on? So what? WAAAH! I WANNA TALK ABOUT MICKEY MANTLE! HE WAS MY FAVORITE PLAYER WHEN I WAS LITTLE! Reminded me of another misguided listening adventure many years ago when I tuned in to hear Francesa and his erstwhile brain-free partner speak to actor and Mets fan Tim Robbins. First thing Francesa said to Robbins was, hey, we should get you together with Chazz Palminteri, he’s an actor and a big Yankees fan!

Robbins was too polite to ask what I would have in that situation:

“What the fuck does Chazz Palminteri have to do with me at this moment?”

I don’t recall the impetus for Tim Robbins appearing, but I do know it wasn’t Subway Series Smack Talk or anything like that. Alas, Robbins was a Mets fan, and that couldn’t be taken at face value. Francesa had to make it about the Yankees, because that’s what a preternaturally insecure, hopelessly childish Yankees fan does.

Perhaps you’ve encountered examples of such behavior in your own life, off the air.

I have a hunch Mike Silva’s interview with Hirsch this Sunday evening at 9:00 on NY Baseball Digest will be far more focused on the subject matter at hand.

37 comments to The Suffocating Insecurities of Mike Francesa

  • Inside Pitcher

    Don’t disparage six-year-olds. They get the concept of turnsies much better than Francesa does.

  • Francesa teased the appearance of Jame Hirsch he announced that he didn’t care much for the book because it was “too long”, sure the book is 600 plus pages but for a baseball fan wanting to know about arguably the most talented player in baseball history it’s 600 pages of outstanding history.

    Mike Francesa is the true essence of what a Yankee fan is, he’s a Yankee fan not a baseball fan

    P.S. Francesa also said that the USA Olympic Hockey team beating Canada and the story they are writing in this Olympics is “no big deal” Usually a statement like that would unleash a flurry of F-bombs Mikey way but the truth is I feel sorry for him because he is no longer relevant on the current sports scene and is much more an outsider than an insider. Francesa and Mike Lupica should go find a clay pit to hang out at together.

    • If the Olympics are such a big deal, why didn’t Mantle ever bother with them?

    • Tom in Sunnyside

      Anyone who has listened to one of Francesa’a monologues knows the last thing he should complain about is someone or something going “too long”.

      Of course with Francesa, if it’s not about the Yankees six pages is too long, let alone 600. And that’s with pictures.

      I’ve lived in Queens my entire life, but Francesa’s Noo Yawk accent grates on even me. Combine that with his attitude towards lesser forms of life i.e. everyone not in pinstripes and he accounts for about 90% of the hatred generated by the rest of the country towards our fair city.

  • For Lent I’m limiting myself to statements that can be scientifically proved true or false through inquiry by disinterested observers. So let me just say this: Mike Francesa is the worst person in the world.

  • Pete

    If Francesa is the highest profile Yankee Fan, no wonder everyone hates us.

  • mikeinbrooklyn

    Thank you!

    I don’t know why, exactly. But I subject myself to Mikey just about every afternoon (and, before that, him and the no-name sidekick). And I usually find myself yelling at the radio at least once. Today, I spent basically the whole afternoon yelling.

    (My problem, doctor, is that I LOVE watching, talking about, listening to, etc. sports. Maybe I should subscibe to a good podcast. Any suggestions?)

    P.S. In defense of the unnamed one, I think Mikey was better with him. I think there were times they kept each other in check. Now, it is just Mike’s ego unchecked.

    Oh, and also (man, now that I’m started, I can’t stop!)…notice how he changes the argument to make his case? Earlier in the day, talking about Jeter, he went into his usual spiel about stats can never tell the story with Derek, etc, etc…Then, when talking about the Mays/Mantle battle going on in his head, he was Mr. Stat–touting Mickey’s higher OBP numbers as if that were the only stat that mattered! Tomorrow, he’ll be talking about how the sabermetric guys are idiots for over-emphasizing OBP.

    God! I’m so worked up now!!

  • Longtime reader first time commenter :-)

    You hit the nail on the head with your evaluation of Francessa’s interview today. This book is not a book about who was better Mays or Mantle but you would not know it based on how Francesa decided to go about it. I actually like listening to Francessa but today was not his best day.

    Anyway keep it up the good work guys.

  • Ray

    Why, I ask, WHY, does management not only tolerate but enable this sort of abuse on their own flagship radio station? Last I checked, there are three other uncommitted clear-channel (small case) signals in NYC that could serve remote listeners as well as this dude’s home base. A fourth could flip just as easily to 660 and let Mikey roll in his billion-dollar clover all he wants, without loyal Met fans having to listen to his drek before games. All I’d ask is that they free up Steve Sommers to do the post-game call-in on WINS or CBS or whatever; now there’s a man who matches the Metropolitans’ message.

  • Matt in Sunnyside

    You should go on his show and talk about your book! He would talk about how much he hates running into Lee Mazzilli decked out in a disco outfit in an elevator, and how it was way better when Billy Martin swore off both medallions and the California Hustle during the 1979 season.

    • “If that was Mantle on the elevator with your sister, your sister would have gotten off at his floor — you know that. She would have kicked you off the elevator so she could be alone with Mickey. Most women would. So would I.”

  • I generally only listen in the car now, I just can’t handle streaming it at work (and I’m not supposed to stream, blah blah blah, we’ll see how that goes when the Mets play day games..)

    So I didn’t listen today until 5:05. I think it’s worth quoting something you said above:

    “It’s not a comparison of centerfielders at whom New Yorkers and baseball fans were fortunate enough to marvel during the same era.”

    I was trying to figure out what the book was from 5:05 to 5:25 on my drive home. (with a brief attempt to switch to 1050, only to be lambasted with “oh, Jeter, Jeter’s so great. The Yankees are so perfect for not negotiating mid-contract. You know they’ll make it work. blah blah, Jeter is love, etc) I’m pretty sure he didn’t mention the name of the book or the author. I was assuming it had something to do with NY baseball, or Center fielders, or something. Biography of Willie Mays wasn’t on the top of my list of possible topics.

    • The mark of a good talk show is keeping the listener guessing about what is being talked about.

      Francesa promoted his guest by saying “we’re gonna have the author on,” never mentioning James Hirsch’s name. That’s the same way he’ll refer to, say, Carlos Ruiz. “The Phillies have a lot of guys who can hurt you: Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, the catcher…”

    • Just be grateful that no callers brought up Duke Snider. Otherwise, Francesa’s pro-Mantle tirade would’ve obstructed the very fact that anyone, let alone the author, was in the studio promoting a book.

  • Mike Francesa is like the Catholic Church. If he is down on something, it sells. Everything the Church ever banned sold like wildfire. I hope this book does the same. We all need to go out and but it just to spite whiny, old Mikey. Willie Mays, though, only a Met for a little while, was great and memorable. His entire career looms over Mantle like a shadow. Mantle was great, but Mays, statistically was better and he was a nicer guy too.

    • Chris M

      That’s not exactly true. Mays had the better career numbers, for sure, but Mantle had the better peak. Mantle has a career 172 OPS+, which is good for 6th all-time (tied with Albert Pujols currently). Mays had a 156, which ties him for 19th all-time with Dick Allen & Frank Thomas. Even if you take out the last few years of Mays’ career when his skills had faded, Mays had a 160 career OPS+ after 1968, the year Mantle retired. Mantle was a 12 percent better hitter than Mays over the 17 years that they were both in the league, and a 16 percent better hitter overall. From 1954-1965, the peak for both of them (though actually a little unfair to Mantle, as he had two great seasons while Mays was in Korea and fell of quite a bit in 1965, which was Mays’ best season), Mantle had a 182 OPS+ and Mays had a 167.

      I think it’s pretty conclusive evidence that Mantle was a better hitter than Mays. Here’s where you refute that yes, but Mays was a far superior fielder and all around player, and I won’t entirely disagree – Mays was a better fielder. But Mantle wasn’t exactly Manny Ramirez out there, either. According to WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a stat which takes hitting & fielding into account), both Mays & Mantle were worth an average of 6.7 wins per season, coming out almost identical. If you take their 3 best seasons, Mantle was worth 12.4 WAR/year to Mays’ 10.7. If you take their 5 best seasons, Mantle was worth 11.3 WAR/year to Mays’ 10.5. You have to go out to their 7 best seasons before Mays’ average WAR sneaks ahead of Mantle’s, 10.3 to 10.2. It should also probably be mentioned that Mantle tore up his knee as a rookie, and by the time you’re talking about his 6th or 7th best seasons, we’re talking the early 60’s when he was chronically injured.

      If I were ranking the greatest all-time players, Mays would probably be in the top 5 with Mantle 2 or 3 spots behind him. Mays was definitely the superior baserunner, which when combined with his incredible longevity probably gives him a bit of an edge over Mantle overall, but I wouldn’t say he was “statistically better.” Also, out of kindness and respect for Mays, I won’t analyze their respective postseason numbers – it would be like comparing Trevor Hoffman to Mariano Rivera.

      Finally, for the record, I am NOT a Yankees fan by any stretch, I was born and raised a die-hard Mets fan who despises the present-day Yankees, but I have no ill-feelings towards the pre-1962 Yankees. I love and respect Willie Mays, and I agree with this post that Francessa is a douche. I didn’t listen to the interview, but it sounds like he acted like a petulant child – there was probably no reason to harp on Mantle in an interview about Mays. The only reason for my post was to refute your last sentence & because I love debating baseball history.

  • Joe D.

    What I could not understand was why Mike kept reminding us that since the book was authorized by Willie and subject to Say Hey’s approval, even though written by Hirsch, it could not therefore be considered 100% objective. The publishers do not hide the fact it is an authorized biography and Willie has been seen on a two-hour interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network promoting it as well.

    The debate about who was better in their early careers, Mays or Mantle, has always been fun. I agree Mickey was more deadly during that period, but so what? It’s like asking who’s better, Ruth or Gehrig – one can just choose their poison. If you ask me who would I prefer batting in a clutch situation with one out and a runner on third (forget the intentional walk which would be automatic) it would be Willie because he struck out much less and had a better chance of putting the ball in play to score the runner.

    I can understand how one can feel a bit miffed at Willie on one aspect He admits wearing too small a cap so it would fly off his head and entertain the fans. But even with the intentions being good, that was also hot-dogging it a bit and now knowing it wasn’t natural but planned (unlike Jim Bouton’s cap flying off the mound) negates the fun and mystic I used to have.

    Also, in Mike’s defense (just to show I’m being objective), he has bad mouthed another Yankee hero, Joe DiMaggio, as being cold, discourteous and absorbed with himself and his image (he demanded to be introduced last on Old Timer’s Days after Mantle got the bigger applause). He’s also reminded us how DiMaggio did nothing to help the Mick during his rookie year.

    But agree, it did seem he went out of his way to bring down the Willie Mays image. Jim Bouton admitted he was wrong putting down Elston Howard for not being openly involved in civil rights, not realizing that only a handful of the best African-Americans got at a shot at the majors and, just like other African-Americans at the time, he had to keep his feelings private in order to protect the financial stability achieved for his family that was closed to most members of his race.

    So the same applied to Willie. He wasn’t immune from racial bigotry and Jim Crow laws (he was barred from buying a house in an all-white section of San Francisco and could not eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as his white team mates).

    And Jackie Robinson had to keep quite for two years, remember?

    So Mike, live up to your own standards when it comes to objectivity.

  • I’m going to suspect that Francesa declined to mention that Mantle played half his career in a stadium with a right field so close that the secondbaseman could probably reach out and touch it, while Mays played in one park with an outfield that was so deep it was practically in a different ZIP code, and then in a miserable park in San Francisco that no doubt robbed him homers, too.

    I’m convinced that had Mays not lost two years to the service and played in parks that were even a little more hitter neutral, he’d have beat Aaron to 700 homers.

    • Joe D.

      Then one could make the counter-argument that Mays played in New York where it was approximately 250 feet down each line and all one had to do was pull the ball for it to go out (i.e., Bobby Thompson’s homer would have been a liner to left in Ebbets Field) and two years in Seals Stadium which had a left center field fence just 364 feet away (or only 20 more than the right field porch at Yankee Stadium).

  • srt

    I tuned into just about that entire show yesterday afternoon. I’m still trying to figure out why I tortured myself….

    You hit the nail on the head. This wasn’t a book about which CF was better. It wasn’t even a comparison about Mays with all other CF of his time and before. It was a book about Willie Mays, period.
    What about that MF did not get, is beyond me.

    I truly think it’s time for Mike to move on, possibly retire. I think he’s outlived his usefulness on the afternoon drive by.

  • Ho-Si

    By habit, I’ll turn on WFAN in the car during afternoons, but it is always just a matter of time before I say, “Shut up, Mike” and turn on something else. The guy repeats the same thing four or five times in the matter of one minute. That’s not the pattern of a sports talk host, it is more consistent with the pattern of a pathological liar who figures the more he says something, the more it must be true.

  • We’ve all had this moment listening to Francesa. I can only take about ten to fifteen minutes of him nowadays. Once he starts referring to me like I’m the subject of a Nat Geo special (“The Met Fan is happy this morning…” “The Met Fan is confused by this move by Mr. Minaya…” “The Met Fan quietly stalks its prey at the watering hole…”) I usually switch the radio over to, well, anything else.

    Speaking of Chazz Palmenteri, I remember he and Russo had Palmenteri on during the Subway Series one summer. I believe it was just to let him sound off about the Mets and about us — I don’t even know if Chazz had anything new out in theaters. Now HE was a real douche. He must have suffered some massive trauma at Shea in the sixties – that guy seriously hates us all.

  • mikeinbrooklyn

    Chris M–Just had to point out that I did the SAME EXACT WAR analysis that you did yesterday (what spurred me was listening to the show). I am just very happy to see that I won’t be alone in the institution.

  • Dak442

    Francesa is just one more part of the media who view everything through a Yankee lens, albeit one of the most annoying. Like, last week the Daily News had an article about the job fair at CitiField. And what did they lead off the article with? A Yankee fan who despite his undying allegiance was applying for a job with the enemy. Thousands of people on that line and they couldn’t find a Met fan hoping to live out his lifelong dream to work for his ballclub. Similarly, I don’t think I recall a single article about CitiField that didn’t mention the new Yankee Stadium, or an article about the demise of Shea that didn’t point out how much more the world would miss old Yankee Stadium. Every ‘man on the street’ feature on the Mets will inevitably include a member of the Steinbrenner Youth offering prescient commentary like “I don’t care, Yankees rule!”.

    Francesa is an awful entertainer. He could be the biggest Met fan in the world and still be unlistenable. As Ho-Si pointed out, the guy repeats himself constantly; I don’t know if he’s desperate to fill time or he has OCD. I’m with everyone else – I may tune in for five minutes or so, but inevitably have to bail because i can’t take the pomposity, repetition and inanity.

    Sports talk in general does nothing for me. Once the game is over, I listen to some recap, and then a Zeppelin bootleg goes into the car stereo.

  • My health has improved remarkably since I limited my intake of Francesa to almost nothing. Kind of like trans fats.

    I get that he had the author on, so that was the hook, but on a day when the USA was edging out Switzerland before Canada was to face Russia in Olympic hockey, Francesa spends an afternoon on Mantle vs. Mays. How current.

  • Rob D.

    (In my best Carton channeling Russo)..
    “sometimes, Mikey…he doesn’t make any SENSE!! I mean, come on…”

  • dmg

    coming sunday, something slightly more enjoyable to subject yourself to(granted, that’s lowering the bar somewhat. there are boil lancings more pleasant than listening to francesa):
    the lead piece in the nytimes book review is pete hamill on the hirsch book.

  • John Ryan

    I stopped listening to Francesa forever during the Jets’ playoff run when he just insulted his listeners and, I feel, embarrassed himself. Not to mention his comment that the Red Sox made a mistake letting Johnny Damon walk. I think the Red Sox accomplished slightly more (one more playoff series win) than the Yankees during those four years at a much lower price. But the Yankees are always right, I guess.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by scratchbomb: if you’ve never heard Mike Francesa and wonder why I hate him so much, this post by @gfafif sums it up http://bit.ly/dm0g4C

  • Comments deleted. Drake, take it somewhere else; not our style. Hometown folks, don’t feed the trolls.

    • CharlieH

      Y’know, I knew it was a bad idea as soon as I hit “submit.” It wasn’t my cleverest work, either…